Monthly Archives: May 2008

Oceans of Time (personal notes on collecting sea shells at the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and the Atlantic Ocean in Palm Beach 33480)

          I rather like to think of time as identical to the Ocean, and our life as a journey across that infinite Ocean.  So today I visited Palm Beach, Florida 33480, where I lived 15-16 years ago.  My son Charlie was born at St. Mary’s Hospital in West Palm Beach, on August 23, 1992, the night that Hurricane Andrew as blowing and Elena and I lived at 223 Atlantic “on the island.”  Charlie was baptized at the Church of Bethesda by the Sea on the Feast of the Epiphany, 1993.  I worked at 301 Clematis at the Federal Courthouse in West Palm Beach, for the Honorable Kenneth L. Ryskamp, a U.S. District Judge who really was honorable, unlike 95% of the judges I’ve ever met since (state or Federal).

 

          Today I walked by the beach a block and a half from the apartment where we used to live, the same beach where my son took his own first steps in sand, and first played in sand before he could walk, and I walked by the swimming pool where Elena and I used to take him for nighttime swims with German waterwings or “Schwimmflugel.” 

 

          Today, May 11, 2008, was the 28th anniversary of my graduation at McAlister Auditorium from the College of Arts & Sciences at Tulane University in New Orleans, on which day I got up on the stage and sang the Star Spangled Banner, and got lots of compliments…it was a nice day (May 11, 1980).  How much water I’ve crossed since then.  Today was also Mother’s Day, and 223 Atlantic Avenue was where Elena and I and Charlie celebrated Elena’s first day as Mother’s Day.  What an amazing and a happy day that was, Mother’s day 1993….what oceans of heartache and harship and sorry lay ahead, until today, when my 15 year old son Charlie called me as I was touring around the island, as I was literally tripping down memory lane…literally washing my feet in the oceans and sands of time…  Elena wasn’t here today.  She and Charlie were in Austin eating at the Macaroni Grill at the Arboretum with Aunt Alex and Nathan—I hope they had a good time, but I wouldn’t know.  I wonder if they thought about the sands and salt waters that wash away everything, eventually…

 

          On May 11, 1980, I was in New Orleans with my mother Alice and grandmother Helen.  They were staying at the Hotel Monteleone, a nice old hotel in the French Quarter, which was their customary stopping place in New Orleans after the old St. Charles Hotel where another Maya Sylvanus Griswold Morley used to stay was torn down.  We were all (my mother and grandmother and I) very happy together back then, happy with the occasion of graduation anyhow, even though my grandfather had just died.  Helen had a beautiful necklace.  It was the last major event of our lives we shared together outside of Dallas.  My grandfather had just died February 18, 1980—just a little bit too soon, before the explosion in computer websites and technology which would have served to make people like him immortal, famous, their careers well-documented and remembered. 

 

          Just under half way in our Ocean voyage between 1980 and 2008, back then in 1992-1993, when Elena and I lived in Palm Beach 33480, I thought I had a certain fairly glorious future in front of me in the law, and that nothing would ever stand in the way of it happening.  Well, how little did I know that my education, far from being over, was only just beginning.  I have had a very interesting life in the law, to be sure, but it has not been very glorious in any conventional sense, au tout contraire—most of my fellow students would probably consider me a disgrace and a pariah—but I feel that way about some of them, such as, for example, Gene Scalia….so I guess it’s a wash….

 

          As we cross the Ocean of time, we gather seashells to remember and mark our way, like the breadcrumbs and pebbles in Hansel & Grettel.  I gathered a couple of dozen seashells today, as I always used to do along that little stretch at the corner of the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and the Atlantic Ocean.

 

          So much has changed almost everywhere in the United States since 1992, but really, almost nothing in Palm Beach proper really has, except apparently that Bradley’s is no longer Bradley’s but something else.  My favorite restaurant Testa’s is still there, as is Charley’s Crab on A1A south of Worth Avenue.  I suppose the rich old neighborhoods are under a lot more pressure to preserve memories and less pressure to change than other places—Harvard Square in Cambridge 02138 is another example—although an exception to this rule, Highland Park in Dallas 75205 has quite simply changed too radically to be recognized anymore.

 

          Fifteen years ago, all the seeds of the present debacle in America had most definitely been planted, but the weeds had not grown quite as rampant.  I was SO unbelievably innocent then, and even though we had all watched very comfortably as Waco (Mr. Carmel) burned in April, at the Judge’s Chambers, I don’t think any of us really realized that this event was the harbinger of a spiral of despair in American history that was going to culminate on 9/11/01, and the weeks, months, and years thereafter.

 

          Securitized mortgages first came into my consciousness at about that stage of my life, when I worked briefly for Cadwalader, Wickersham, & Taft (then home office 100 Maiden Lane, in New York City), and Cadwalader was, in essence, the pioneer-cabin birthplace of these science fiction-type “investment vehicles” which, alone, have done so much to destroy any vestiges of an honest economy and monetary system.

 

          Palm Beach is right by the ocean, so it’s insulated from the stifling humidity that’s characteristic of almost every other place in Florida.  Palm Beach houses don’t have to be torn down every few years, so one doesn’t go into traumatic culture shock by visiting there, even after 14 ½ years.  Our old apartment building looks the same, even looking in the front door through the lobby, as it did in my son’s first year of life.  The beach sands and clear ocean water look and feel the same.  Everywhere else there’s been a whirlwind of money-motivated change.  Money-motivated stability and lack of change is almost refreshing by comparison.

 

          Seashells that we collect, the sole artifacts of time and the ocean, are likewise unchanging and immutable, and these gifts of the sea are also unchanging in their value, and in their cost, rather like human souls.  Everything created by humans is changing, but some things, things of unusual status like at least the outward aspect (and probably the internal structure and content) of houses, churches, restaurants and small apartment buildings in Palm Beach, the old buildings of Harvard Square and Harvard Yard, like the Holy Bible, change very slowly.

NOT WITH A BANG but a whimper—Nancy Jo Grant’s VOP Hearing May 8, 2008

Well, yesterday (May 8, 2008) was an interesting day, to put it mildly.  I got up in Tarpon Springs at 5:52 a.m. to go to Arcadia in DeSoto County, Florida for the first time since February 20, the day after Nancy was arrested on February 19, 2008, the first day I met her.  This time Nancy was in chains and looked a lot thinner than she had before, but really pretty good considering.

All the indicia of “why we fight” were there.  The place buzzed with self-important state (prosecuting) lawyers who looked like cops.  The real cops (Court Security Officers/Bailiffs) were there looking like cartoon characters from some bad crime movie.  The old, high-ceiling courtroom’s only decorations were pictures of about five judges, none more historic than the 1920s-30s I don’t think.

The current lady Judge (Diana Moreland) was there effectively acting her part as a ritual upholder of the (at least supposed and superficial) dignity of her office and the court—furiously scribbling notes while Nancy’s ignoramus Probation officer was on the witness stand, then kindly gazing with what I can only assumed as feigned sorrow and sympathy for Nancy, and not taking ANY notes at all.

Worst of all, Nancy Jo Grant was there in her prison black-and-white stripes with leg shackles on—and not a single member of her family or DeSoto County circle there in the Courtroom with her.  As far as I could tell, Bill Trudelle, his beautiful and charming wife Natalie, and my “nearest kin” in Florida, Pat Arlotta and I were the only supporters or friends Nancy had in the courtroom that Thursday.  Nancy herself bemoaned that many of the relevant people were simply not present in court, and could offer no testimony which should have been offered.

Well, that SHOULD have been the worst of all.  The actual worst of all (for me at least) was that Nancy and her lawyer and even the probation officer spent an inordinate amount of time talking about me, which was close to the last thing I expected, even less likely than a complete acquittal—I had at least imagined a complete acquittal—I never imagined that, by my presence there, I was going to be “Exhibit A”—i.e., “BullsEye Target” to deflect attention away from Nancy).   Anyhow, there were just too many references to “a formal Federal prosecutor” who “lived in Canada” and “had his office in Texas” but was “here in the courtroom right now” for me to feel very comfortable.   Talk about a misguided defense strategy!

This was definitely close to the last thing I had expected in the world on May 8, 2008, I had expected just to be there in the audience to show my support, and to see Nancy, and although the hearing started fairly promptly at 9:00-9:15, I left after the first two hour break because I saw no advantage Nancy could possibly derive from calling in her favor a man accused by Texas Deputy Attorney General James Carlton Todd [acting on behalf of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, one of the worst of the worst anywhere in the U.S.] of being one of the most dangerous “paper” terrorists in North America (in several State court-pleadings/motions in 05-973-C395 in Williamson County, Texas).

I realize that James Carlton Todd also accused me of being a cowardly terrorist and I suppose walking out of the hearing rather than being called as an impromptu witness was rather cowardly of me, but sometimes, as I explained to Nancy when I gave her a hug and a kiss and told her I wouldn’t be sticking around for the conclusion of the hearing, sometimes Discretion is the better part of Valor.

[(Note: James Carlton Todd, in 2005, called me a “cowardly” terrorist because I was, at that time, preparing my own pleadings and motions “and wreaking his reign of terror to dismantle the Texas Family Law System” while “hiding behind” my licensed counsel, Francis Wayne Williams Montenegro and Valorie Wells Davenport, both of whom were later sanctioned and extortionately blackmailed into ceasing their basically heroic, unprecedented representation of me despite the monstrous, mountainous difficulties faced).  Valorie Wells Davenport had previously run for Texas Supreme Court, in 2000, and James Carlton Todd admitted that he had voted for her…in open court.  I feel that I was extraordinarily lucky to have both Francis Williams-Montenegro and Valorie Davenport in court with me.  I confess that I wish they had done more, that they had had the courage to carry forward in the face of almost insurmountable odds, and that I sometimes found fault with them for what were at worst “human, all too human” weaknesses and failings.  But basically, and upon several years backwards reflection, there was never a more amazing “Dream Team” put together with less money and resources than me working with Williams-Montenegro and Davenport, and I will always be eternally grateful to them and to the God of Providence who brought us all together.  I apologize to them and any member of their families or firms who were offended or injured in any way by my criticisms in the past, and I retract those criticisms (they are all “moot” now, but Valorie recently told me that the comments on-line still sting).  I felt that I was “alone, all all alone, alone on a wide, wide sea” without them (and sometimes even with them, because the fight against corrupt courts in Texas is so huge and uphill a fight).]

In any event, going back to Nancy Grant’s VOP proceedings on May 8, 2008, that particular hearing ended not with a bang but a whimper.  Bill and Natalie Trudelle met with me and Pat later reported to us over lunch in Ellenton, Florida, on I-75 northbound just south of Bradenton, that Nancy had gotten a six months sentence for her probation violation (with full credit for every day served prior to today, including any time since or before February 19, 2008 when she was arrested for violation of probation), after which her probationary status would be restored.

In addition, according to Bill Trudelle, Judge Diana Moreland apparently amended the previous order of probation so that Nancy will now be able to apply for early release from probation, if she maintains good status.  Of course, as Bill Trudelle pointed out, she should be eligible, if her family would apply to the DeSoto County Sheriff, to be given house release with an ankle monitor and bracelet, because this is her first offense, because she is utterly and absolutely non-violent, because she poses no danger to the community, etc… but nobody from her family was there at the hearing.  I had spoken to her son Ben the night before and he hadn’t actually expected the hearing to go forward—“they’ll just put it off, it’s what they always do.”

So, on May 9, 2008, it is now possible to predict that Nancy will almost certainly see the light of day sometime in late July or early August at the latest, maybe even earlier.  Oh yes, she was also found guilty only of two highly technical violations of probation (a single, one-time, failure to report to her P.O. and a single, one-time, failure to timely report address change to P.O.). Nancy had also been accused of violating her probation by filing cases in Federal Court, but she was found not guilty of those charges, possibly on the grounds that she had been assisted by “a former Federal prosecutor” whom she had “known for several years.”  I don’t know who she could possibly have been talking about……

I really only got to know Nancy in and after her conviction in August 2007, roughly 14 years after my clerkship with the Honorable Kenneth L. Ryskamp ended in Palm Beach (my only period of paid federal employment, ever….my earlier work for the Ninth Circuit as a judicial extern clerk was unpaid because I didn’t yet have my J.D.).  I had certainly heard of Nancy through her Jail-4-Judges activities before then, but I don’t think we ever even spoke on the telephone before she was convicted.  And I certainly was NEVER a Federal prosecutor (or any other kind of prosecutor) EVER in my life—in fact I turned down a job with the U.S. Department of Justice Honors Program once because they wanted me to work prosecuting and deporting aliens in El Cajon, California….and I just couldn’t do it—though sometimes I regret that decision now—I could have been an expert on immigration law and population control, both of which are kind of related to my Harvard Dissertation topics of “Ethnicity and Social Organization.”  But anyhow….

It is not possible to hate the stupidity of Nancy being held in ankle bracelets and chains enough.  It is not possible to hate the illegal prosecution which led to her being in chains sufficiently.  It is not possible to question the sanity of the system that does this sort of thing to truly harmless people enough.  The State of Florida was able to gloat over putting Nancy in Jail.  Nancy must be relieved to know that she’s not going to be locked up indefinitely—in fact, she’s probably served more than half her time already, given credit for time served—and so she’ll be back among us well before the Feast of the Assumption (August 15), my son’s 16th Birthday (August 23),

Labor Day, and the Autumnal Equinox….  Thanks Be to God!

Dallas News, Dallas Blues: PROSECUTE THE PROSECUTORS!

Editorial: Bad prosecutors should face prison

06:41 AM CDT on Tuesday, May 6, 2008  (From the Dallas Morning News, one of America’s most conservative and pro-establishment newspapers—a sign of a ray of hope; there used to be a song “Dallas News, Dallas Blues, ten little pennies in the news boys hand, then your off , and OFF—to never never land”—maybe times have changed…..MAYBE….but this is a wonderful editorial) Craig Watkins has had a few misses amid many hits in his first term as Dallas County district attorney, but it’s hard to argue with his there-oughta-be-a-law sentiment on prosecutorial misconduct.

Mr. Watkins has pushed as hard to free the innocent as he has to convict the guilty. In that spirit, he now wants Texas to increase punishments – up to and including prison time – for prosecutors who intentionally withhold evidence from defendants.

Today, Texas law allows cash compensation to those wrongfully convicted but has no criminal sanctions for prosecutors who intentionally commit “Brady violations.” The term stems from a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brady vs. Maryland that held that defendants’ constitutional rights are violated if prosecutors intentionally or accidentally withhold evidence favorable to the defense.

A sanction from the State Bar of Texas is the worst penalty a prosecutor currently can expect, and such instances are so rare as to be noteworthy when they occur.

Even the most egregious recent example of U.S. prosecutorial misconduct – Durham County, N.C., District Attorney Mike Nifong and the so-called Duke lacrosse case – resulted in only a day in jail, a fine and disbarment. If that sounds stiff, consider the potential life ruination from his attempts to prosecute three college students on rape charges he knew to be false.

Few cases are as heinous or as obvious. Ferreting out this type of injustice is far from as clear-cut as a DNA exoneration. It can be years or even decades before legal teams can dig up the evidence needed to bring such a charge.

If time – in effect, a statute of limitations – is a potential obstacle, Mr. Watkins also knows that degree is another. Every bit of evidence, from a witness to a document to a fiber found at a crime scene, carries a different weight. This must be considered in any new law.

Since he’s not a state legislator, Mr. Watkins needs someone to carry a bill for him in Austin. We would think he would have the support of the vast majority of his DA colleagues. They know as well as he does that any prosecutor who cheats the system and cuts corners makes all of them look bad.